Bradley R. Daniels is the host of Sex in Afrikaans
The new Showmax documentary series Sex in Afrikaans is getting South Africans talking about sex. The no-holds-barred show even broke Devilsdorp’s first-day views when it recently debuted.
Sex in Afrikaans follows clinical psychologist Bradley R. Daniels as he helps four couples – including a gay couple – and two singles to have open discussions about their sex lives.
We talked to Daniels – who has a master’s degree in clinical psychology from NYU (New York University) and is an executive member of SASHA (Southern African Sexual Health Association) – about his hopes for the show and queer sexuality and relationships.
Why do you think we need a show like Sex in Afrikaans?
The timing for this show is so spot-on, not just for South Africa, but also globally. Last year we hosted the World Association for Sexual Health Congress (WAS2021); the first time that it’s happened on the African continent. And our tagline was “to leave no one behind.” That’s to say that sex and sexuality matters are not just for an elite few or the upper echelons in society. Particularly on the African continent, when we talk about sex and sexuality, the narrative is usually limited to HIV or contraception. So, the notion of sex and sexuality and pleasure is almost taken away from the African continent. In that way, the show also neatly ties in with the global agenda, which is to say that sexual health, sexual practice and sexual pleasure are actually human rights.
How important was it for you that the show be LGBTQ-inclusive?
It was important for me that the show was representative and that it was diverse. And you’ll see on the show, in terms of the four different couples and the two singles, there is a queer couple. It’s always interesting to see their perspective when we had some of the conversations.
How comfortable are you being open about your own sexuality or sexual identity to the public?
I identify as queer, but I’m never going to share more than that. For example, “maybe he likes wearing red panties, or he’s into fisting,” or whatever the case may be. And the reason for that is not because I’m ashamed of any of, if any of it were true, [but] to operate as a clinical psychologist and to afford that objective and that anonymous space to people who may need my services. I constantly had to be mindful of that, so that the professional message gets across and that it doesn’t become about me but about the work that I do.
When you see couples in your practice, to what extent does sex play a role in the challenges that they’re having?
When I see a couple for the first time, one of the first questions I would ask is, “Oh, so how are the two of you doing sexually?” Because, isn’t that the ultimate barometer of the overall health of a couple? Even though the couple may have come in and said, “You know, we struggle with communication” – that’s the common one and is sort of the “acceptable” referral reason – but I go straight there. Generally, couples have three main challenges that they struggle with; communication can be one, finances is the other and then sex, and not in that order. It’s either one of the three, two of the three or three of them.
Do you think that there are communities in South Africa that are more conservative than others when it comes to sex?
Generally, sex is a taboo topic globally. I think it’s a misnomer that South Africa is more conservative than the rest of the world. But we do also struggle in South Africa to talk about sex openly. And it’s also not to say that the Afrikaans community is any more or any less conservative than any other community. It’s just that there is very little conversation that happens. People are swinging, people are buying sex toys, people are watching pornography, but nobody talks about it because of the nature of how that society is structured. Often, conservative communities have something else in common; there is also some sort of religious cultural input that makes it conservative.
Religion often seems to hamper people’s expression of their sexuality…
And particularly you see this in the queer community, that if you come out as queer, there’s an unconscious thing that also happens, which is that you then denounce your religion because it’s difficult for people to integrate the two. And this is work that we are desperately trying to do; to say that you can be gay and be religious. You can be spiritual and be gay. All people have a right to a religious orientation, irrespective of their sexual orientation or even for that matter, their sexual practices.
When it comes to the queer couples that you see in your practice, do they tend to have more sexual hang-ups or issues than heterosexual couples?
I think, generally, most people have hang-ups around sex, but when you give people the knowledge and you give them the language, generally things become better. Although it’s changing a little bit now, by virtue of somebody being queer they often have slightly less experience in relationships, because it’s difficult for somebody at maybe 12 to say “Hey, I want to start dating” if they are queer. It’s more thinkable for a 12-year-old heterosexual male to start dating girls and start asking girls out. So, by the time they hit 21, they’ve had at least eight years’ experience over a person who identifies as queer.
The same goes for sexuality. You know, this is also changing with time, but how many high school classrooms are teaching kids in sex education about sexual intercourse that extends beyond the penis and the vagina? I would imagine very few are teaching kids about what same-sex sexuality would look like. Nobody sits down, for example, to teach gay men what you need to do to be able to bottom effectively, right? You either learn it along the way, or some people never learn it. With sexual practices, it’s always difficult when information is not available to people. And this is part of what for me the show was about; to get people the right information so that they can, number one, be competent around sex and sexuality and, number two, so that they can also make informed decisions.
I’m also just thinking about trans sexuality. I see this often with my trans patients while they are busy transitioning: you identify as a trans woman, but biologically you are still sitting with a penis down there. Does it mean that you are not going to be sexual until you have gotten rid of that? And what I try to say is, how do we work with it as it is? You can’t just put your sexuality on hold until you’ve done the full transition!
I wanted to discuss the issue of internalised homophobia and the idea of shame around queer sexuality, and what role it plays in our sex lives.
So internalised homo-negativity or internalised homophobia is a very real thing. How that often shows up is around the shame that we sometimes feel around sex and our sexuality. You must remember that if you look at even spatial planning and sexuality, “other” sexuality is often banished to the outskirts of the city and into the dark. And that’s where a lot of people would learn about their sexuality; in the dark, dark rooms, dark alleys, all of that. So historically all that learning has happened in the dark. By bringing it into the light and illuminating it, we actually would be eradicating so many psychological problems, and also just problems in society.
LGBTIQ people often have higher rates of substance abuse, and gay and bi men sometimes seek out chemsex; using certain drugs to heighten sexual pleasure and decrease inhibitions. Do you think that the internalised shame you mentioned plays a role in this?
We know that substance misuse appeals to people who have low self-esteem. So generally, if you’re dealing with anything addiction-related, somewhere along the line, you’re also going to find that you’re dealing with somebody who struggles with low self-esteem, and not in the simplistic way that we were taught when we were in school. So, if you’re dealing with somebody who already is feeling not very confident, in terms of how they look… And particularly if you think about things like body dysmorphia amongst gay men; if you don’t look a certain way, you are feeling less attractive. So, something like chems becomes even more addictive and toxic because it’s taking care of a couple of things. Number one, it’s lowering inhibitions. Number two, it’s making you feel better about yourself, because when inhibitions are down then you are, for example, the hottest twink and the hottest power bottom. Which is maybe not how you feel when you’re sober, right? And what can make chemsex so deadly is that the kinds of drugs that people use during chemsex are also tied to sex and sexuality. So, you’re almost taking a double dose of a drug, you’re basically supersizing your pleasure. So that’s what makes it problematic.
There’s often confusion around the term “men who have sex with men” (MSM). Are they gay or bisexual and what does the term mean?
What we’re trying to get the world to see is that many men who are MSM, enjoy the practice of sex with other men but they don’t necessarily identify as being gay, or they don’t identify as being bisexual. They maybe don’t even want to be part of a gay community. They don’t want to be in a marriage with another man or something like that. They want to be married to a woman, but they also enjoy the practice of having sex with other men. So, it’s a behavioural thing. And of course, something like chemsex makes it so much easier because people can kind of get into spaces and get out of spaces. There’s also a level of disconnect that can happen in that sort of subculture. The reality of the matter is if people are high, sex is what they want and whether it’s coming from someone who identifies as gay or someone who identifies as straight but enjoys fucking men, it’s all the same to them.
We recently ran a poll on MambaOnline around the top and bottom roles in the bedroom. And it seems that identifying as a top or a bottom comes with a lot of baggage around things like dominance, femininity, masculinity, and age.
If I’m seeing a gay couple, it’s not a question that I would be afraid to ask. I’d say, “So who’s top and who’s bottom in this relationship?” because it already tells you a lot about the potential dynamics that you could be looking out for in that relationship. If you look at the original sense, the notion of top and bottom really comes from this basic thing, which is saying, the top is somebody who derives pleasure from giving pleasure, from seeing the other person experience pleasure. And the bottom is somebody who will receive pleasure. It originally had nothing really to do with who puts what into what. Over the years, it started to become about that. And then people started to give false labels to it. So, the masculine one is the top one, and the feminine, one is the bottom. Or the top one is the dominant one and the bottom one is the submissive one. And in fact, we know for a fact that those tables are often turned. I mean, you can get a submissive top, and you can get a dominant, bossy or power bottom.
What impact do you hope the show will have on South Africa?
If we create safe spaces – where people can understand, learn, explore their sexuality more fully – it often makes it more plausible and more possible for them to do so. Part of my focus in the show was around how do I bring my skills as a psychologist to make the space safe so that we can have a proper full-on discussion about some of the issues at hand. I’m hoping that the viewers will see that happening in front of their eyes as they watch the show. And they’ll also see that by giving people the right information and the full information, people are able to understand different sexual practices in different ways. They can then make up their mind, whether they say “I think I like that” or “I think I’m never going to get into that” … So that they are making that informed decision about “what I want to do with my body and how I want to experience pleasure in my body.”
Sex in Afrikaans can be streamed right now on Showmax.